Chronicles from Italy during Covid-19
I am writing this blogpost right in the middle of one of the strangest and most unpredictable situations that I have ever faced. Indeed, certainly the strangest and most unpredictable, even just until a couple of weeks ago.
I believe that none of us – and I speak for my fellow citizens in Italy but, in general, for Europeans – have not even remotely imagined having to stay at home, to see shops and bars closed (since March 11, in Italy they have closed all businesses except those that sell basic necessities such as groceries and pharmacies), not being able to meet other people, not being able to move from your area of residence and, even within this area, still having to keep account of travel only for necessary reasons.
Yet we are here, in this strange, surreal, alienating moment. Trying to do our part to stop the infection and with the hope that the situation will change for the better.
In these strange days, therefore, I am recovering a sedentary dimension that usually does not belong to me and that, of course, I had to make my own. I work remotely by applying all the provisions related to smart working to the letter. Fortunately, mine is a job that, in cases like these, can be done remotely in many respects.
It is not always easy, for sure I miss my clients and colleagues and people in general but I try to take the good from staying in the same place for a while.
I therefore observe the world, including the professional one, from my office (which is 2 floors above the apartment where I live, another great luck), and I take advantage of slower rhythms to share with you what I see happening in the Italian fundraising.
The power of the non-professional
Generosity is something we talk about daily in our appeals aimed to solidarity, sense of community, to take care of people and places. But over the last few weeks, there are times when you don’t even need to talk, because the action comes even earlier.
There are many initiatives that have been promoted in recent days throughout Italy.
The promoters are, in a large number of cases, people who have nothing to do with fundraising – not professionally, at least. Maybe they have never even heard of it but, faced with the complex and complicated situations that Italian hospitals are experiencing due to the number of people who need intensive care, they have become active. From the scratch, literally, starting with spontaneous fundraising initiatives starting from one’s own relational network, with small donations but not exclusively.
I would just mention an example that touches me closely: an initiative that started a couple of days ago in support of the local hospital – I live in a town which has about 100,000 inhabitants. In just a few hours, they reached almost 20,000 euros raised, with initial average gifts of 10 euros which, gradually, have increased. It had never happened before in the city. And it’s not the only local initiative.
As professionals, the team from ENGAGEDin have made ourselves available pro bono for anyone wishing to start initiatives, coordinating with the needs collected from the hospital management in order not to create overlaps and further difficulties for those already in a critical situation.
I was thinking, therefore, about the last months in Italy, when it seemed that the political debate, communication, and the situation in general was concentrated on a general bad mood, a sort of loss of mutual links and sense of community.
Instead, something (Covid-19) happened and made us all find ourselves in the same boat, returning to us the sense of a common destiny and the desire to be (and feel) part of it, reminding each of us that our own means, approaches and differences exist but do not define us first.
Speaking as a fundraising professional, I am used to looking for what keeps organizations together – their values, a common vision, a shared direction – to identify possible development strategies.
The current situation is highlighting that thinking about what keeps us together rather than what makes us different is something “natural”. This doesn’t mean we should forget differences but, more precisely, during difficulties we as human beings are able to redefine a sort of natural order of priorities.
I have just mentioned a single example: there are many other cases of civic and professional volunteering, in-kind donations – we (the Italians) have all read about a lady who, queuing in a pizza place (before they were closed throughout the country due to the recent laws), had heard of an order of pizzas for the doctors of the local hospital (who are working exhausting shifts and often can’t even take decent breaks) and asked to pay for everyone, just to thank them for what they are doing.
We are realizing how much each of us is necessary for others. And how much generosity – giving – to recover a word from our daily job as fundraisers – is an essential part of everyone’s lives. Even when we don’t pay attention to it.
There is another element of these initiatives that strikes me, and it is something that I measure myself with every time I work with organizations in fundraising campaigns: keeping things simple.
Some time ago I read a sentence (that, since then, I often mention in the courses that I deliver) that speaks about the so-called “curse of knowledge”, or that tendency to complicate things – appeals, workflow, management cycles and so on – typical of those who posses expertise and technique in a certain area.
In this case I am referring to fundraising and fundraisers, of course.
I read appeals and initiatives raised in these days and I am impressed by their disarming simplicity. They speak with the heart, inspired exclusively by the desire to do something, to make themselves useful. To be there to support.
I ask myself, then: how to find the right measure to keep things simple, even once you are back to ordinary life?
Because, beyond the emergency which is a situation in which one is naturally more inclined to be sensitive to pro-gift behaviour, it is true that in general perhaps we should remove, rather than add, complexity. We should be trying to focus our thoughts on what induces us to “move”, put ourselves more in the shoes of donors. It is not easy, when your professional focus is strategy and gaining the big picture, but you have to try.
The one-off initiative works but, to make fundraising properly develop its potential, professionalism is required. Furthermore, it is necessary that the professional characteristics and techniques are combined with the ability to read situations and “make them readable” to our constituency.
Emotions – no doubt about that – are primary feelings. We should try to remember it, always.
Two final considerations from my perspective as a consultant – that, however, are also perfectly suitable for a fundraiser.
What I have done in the past two weeks is an (almost) integral review of the plans and strategies developed a few months ago with the organizations I work with.
Actions based, for example, on corporate fundraising require, given the situation, a redefinition. It is necessary to plan the activities again starting from a different evaluation – companies are suffering and the situation will get worse in the coming months – because – it is useless to hide it – the economic impact of this situation of forced stop will be hard (is hard) for everyone. And it is unthinkable to think about corporate fundraising strategies as if nothing had happened.
The same goes for fundraising from individuals, albeit with a different approach. Now that the attention seems to be focused entirely on supporting hospitals, how to fundraise for causes other than those related to Covid-19?
I am experiencing different approaches to fundraising activities with the organizations I work with, and the results are encouraging. Coronavirus has an impact on everyone, it is necessary to tell it and tell what it means, for example, for disabled people who attend day centres not being able to deal with educators and classmates; or what it means for communities that host children taken from families for violence and abuse that cannot attend school, cannot go out and live a “closed” situation to be “handled with care” by the caregivers.
Let’s go back, that is, to one of the fundraising cornerstones: the engagement based on the storytelling of what happens to those that are affected by a certain situation.
Here, I am working a lot on this issue – on engagement, I mean – especially online (my eternal gratitude goes to Tim Berners Lee for the huge gift of the Internet): an accurate analysis and identification of the constituency to seek for new audiences, a behind-the-scenes storytelling to bring people into – albeit virtually – organizations.
It is the preparatory work for fundraising that often remains in the background, in the ordinary life, crushed by the operational side of the campaigns.
Well, this is the right time to “push” on this issue, to work “fine”, to put yourself in the best conditions for the future.
This leads to the last consideration, about a talent that I consider among the necessary assets for fundraisers – indeed, I would say that it is necessary for anyone: flexibility. We talk a lot about it, but the practice often is a completely different thing.
Because being flexible requires, first of all, being in situations, knowing them thoroughly and knowing how to interpret them. Without these elements, it becomes a mere theoretical exercise that rarely produces results.
Being flexible, therefore, means reading and knowing how to re-read reality and, as a consequence, adapt the tools and vehicles to manage it, redefining priorities by taking into account the objective.
This is one of the most important lessons of this period: to do this profession, you need to keep the bar straight to the goal and, at the same time, be able to change the path to reach it.